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Dumbed-Down Science Standards

My company has been very generous in providing me with all kinds of training in highly sophisticated computational technologies. I’ve attended numerous training seminars, primarily in the areas of finite element analysis and computational fluid dynamics.

These three- to five-day courses are universally incredibly intensive, and it is assumed that the attendee has a thorough background in mathematics (integral and differential calculus, and differential equations), a complete understanding of basic physics (e.g., F=ma, so that the mathematical engine of the FEA or CFD solver can process the input), and experience with command-line Unix or Linux operating systems.

In my experience attending these training courses I am struck by the fact that I am almost always among the very few who are American-born scientists and engineers.

The explanation is clear to me: Science standards in the U.S. have been dumbed down.

Here’s the kicker: Two of the most obvious dumbing-down engines of “science” education are Darwinian orthodoxy and political correctness, which place unsubstantiated speculation ahead of evidence and reasonable skeptical inquiry.

This places indoctrination ahead of critical thought and academic rigor, and when polluted with unearned and undeserved self-esteem (another disastrous politically correct notion), produces a vast majority of students who will never be able to attend an FEA or CFD course and have the slightest idea what is going on.

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24 Responses to Dumbed-Down Science Standards

  1. “I am almost always among the very few who are American-born scientists and engineers.”

    Funny, I’ve had a very different experience. Perhaps you are one of the few American-born scientists and engineers willing to work at the wages your company provides. How many visas does your company give out to save a buck?

  2. Where did these non-Americans come from? Most countries are are just as likely, if not more likely, to include Darwinian Orthodoxy in their school curriculum and many education systems are more authoritarian and less likely to encourage thinking for yourself.

  3. I have never been to US, but have heard a few things along these lines recently. What is striking to me is how similar all of this is to what happened in the late USSR. I can only commiserate. It appears to agree with Lev Gumilev’s theory of genesis and evolution of ethnoses.

    For the eagle-eyed, Gumilev’s ideas have no bearings with anything Darwin proposed.

  4. Gil’s idea is interesting, but seems more of a personal opinion rather than anything substantiated by facts. As MarkF states, it seems in fact that countries where evolution is more-or-less accepted are the ones that do better in science.

    I suspect the real reasons for this dumbing effect are probably many and complex, and are related to the problems with the education system as a whole in the US. Perhaps they are related to poor pay for teachers (and inability to recruit and retain the best), the fact that American students spend less hours in school – yes, and even the lack of government funding. And maybe that there are cultural influences too – that being a jock in American society is more valued than being smart.

  5. Gil, I usually agree with a lot of what you say, but I can’t agree with you on this one. While I think Darwinian evolution is a waste of time, resources and careers of many brilliant scientists, I don’t think it has more than a blip to do with failed science education. As others stated, for one thing, the countries that are learning circles around us are probably even more entrenched in Darwinian evolutionary theory. I graduated high school (public schools) in 2003, which, I think, is fairly recent for many people that are closely involved with this debate. What I noticed, and what many of my teachers confirmed in conversations before and after graduation, is a culture of negativity towards education. For a huge portion of the youth population, education is 100% negative:

    - They hate being in school and would rather be socializing, playing, etc. Most kids say they “hate school” at some point, but I’m talking about the ones who maintain this thought throughout their entire education, not just when they’re bored, burnt out, etc.

    - They don’t realize how important education is because of just how good they have everything. Even those in the lower middle class and lower class have it great compared to many kids in the countries that learn much more than them. Maybe their parents didn’t get an education, either, and they’re doing fine (i.e., food and shelter is never in question). Many other countries’ kids have a much greater sense of urgency

    - Not only is learning not “fun” or desired, there are some cultural threads that actually make fun of studying, learning, achievement, etc.

    - Even many kids that are in “advanced” classes, like those that I attended, just try to beat the system to get good grades. Good grades –> good college (and scholarship) –> good job –> more money. No where in that sequence is actual content comprehension valued. And these are the top 10%!

    Obviously not all kids are like that, but I would say that the majority of a typical high school (at least the school I attended) falls into at least one of those categories.

    Compare that to some of the countries that are lapping us and the vast majority of the kids are voracious learners. They want to understand the material, not just to get a good grade.

    I also think there are some systematic problems. The biggest two I see are ridiculous testing standards and the early division of “achieving”, “average” and “underachieving” students.

    First, since for even those interested in “doing well in school”, the end goal is not to learn but rather to get good grades, unchallenging evaluation procedures make it easy to get good grades without really learning the material. Most classes I took curved every test, etc. I understand the point of a curved grading scale, but these always seemed way too lenient. With the snap of a finger, a class went from 30% fail, 30% D, 30% C, 10% A-B … to … 30% C, 50 % B, 20% A.

    And I also see the point of separating students who are brighter and more interested in learning from others. If every class was randomly generated from a student population, there would be so much distraction to the bright students that their educations would suffer. But right now, students are separated very early, like the 2nd or 3rd grade. It’s usually easy to pick out the bright ones but many get labeled “average” or “below average” and that is the role they live out the rest of their school life. They identify with their classmates. If a kid who has a great potential underachieves in the 2nd grade (which could be for a host of reasons), they could be stuck in a class in the 3rd grade with a group of students that are generally underachievers. This becomes a norm for the student over the years, as well as the study habits of classmates and expectations from teachers and parents. There seems to never be an attempt to get students to climb to the next highest level. You are who you are. The same also applies to the advanced students. Some just think they are advanced because they are in advanced classes, and they don’t end up learning a whole lot more than an “average” student.

  6. Wow, this is an interesting argument. How about let’s test GilDodgen’s argument by having a look at the science standards in other industrialized countries. Let’s also have a look about where there are regular fights about teaching well-established central organizing scientific theories like evolution in science class.

    The U.S. is the place where the science standards get dumbed down, and it’s not happening because of the scientific community. In other countries, the science standards get written (usually nationally!) by scientists. In the U.S., science curriculum is fragmented into states and school districts, and it can have heavy political influence. Religious conservatives can and have used these features of our political system to dumb down the science standards for decades.

  7. I dont think 8 years of Bush did Science education much good either.

  8. Yes, in all of the other developed countries the US compares itself against, “Darwinian orthodoxy” is not at all controversial. So that cannot be the cause of the dumbing down.

    What do you mean by the term “political correctness”? People have a lot of different meanings for it. But by most meanings it seems to involve helping less fortunate people in society or trying to share out the opportunities, which doesn’t seem very “Darwinian” to me.

    And as for self-esteem – the more we have of that better. The concept of having to “earn” it seems about face to me.

  9. Nick,

    My point is that organizations like those with which you’ve been associated (e.g., the National Center for Science Education) have a central and exclusive focus: defending Darwinian orthodoxy.

    This is not “science education”; it’s indoctrination. Science education should be focused on mathematical rigor and empirical evaluation of available evidence.

    As far as Darwinian theory is concerned in foreign countries, all the highly intelligent foreign-born scientists and engineers I know just blow it off as irrelevant speculation and get back to real science. They don’t want to waste their time.

    American students waste way too much time on such irrelevancies, and are therefore crippled by our education system and its abysmally low academic standards.

  10. Gil, you’re retreating from your original argument here — but also, any poll you look at will show that all those other nice industrialized countries have rates of evolution acceptance much higher than in the U.S. In the Science article on this a few years ago, the US came out second-to-last in a list of industrialized countries, second only to Turkey.

    I don’t want to help you out or anything, but for your argument to make some degree of sense, you ought to be arguing that the US education system and science standards are good, and that in these other industrialized countries they are bad.

  11. Gil: “As far as Darwinian theory is concerned in foreign countries, all the highly intelligent foreign-born scientists and engineers I know just blow it off as irrelevant speculation and get back to real science. They don’t want to waste their time.”

    This doesn’t make sense – your foreign-born friends can blow off Darwinism and still succeed in science, yet American-born scientists, who live in a country less accepting of Darwinism, cannot blow it off? Again the data suggests that this Darwinian indoctrination you speak off is not actually all that effective given that (as Nick has pointed out), the US is only second from the bottom in evolution acceptance. By all means please provide data that supports your position, but it has to be more than “I know some people who…”

  12. Nick,

    What does “evolution acceptance” mean? Does it mean believing that random errors filtered by natural selection can explain the metamorphosis of an amoeba into Mozart in 10^17 seconds with hopelessly inadequate probabilistic resources?

    By the way, the engineers I’m referring to rarely come from Western industrialized countries. The vast majority seem to come from India. India appears to be producing a disproportionately large number of brilliant engineers, mathematicians, and computer scientists. It is very humbling. It would be interesting to investigate the “evolution acceptance” ratio among these amazingly disciplined people.

  13. Most countries are are just as likely, if not more likely, to include Darwinian Orthodoxy in their school curriculum and many education systems are more authoritarian and less likely to encourage thinking for yourself.

    And your evidence for taht is, what?

  14. Unfortunately MarkF cannot support his claim.

    As for acceptance of “evolution”, well most of the claims of the theory of evolution are outside of science, so how can accepting it help?

  15. How can the theory of evolution be a well-established central organizing scientific theory when most of its claims cannot be tested?

  16. The following is a good essay, by Robert C. Koons, in which the popular misconception of a war between science and religion, that neo-Darwinists often use in public to defend their, ironically, pseudo-scientific position,, is in fact a gross misrepresentation of the facts. For not only does Robert Koons find Theism absolutely vital to the founding of modern science, but also argues that the Theistic worldview is necessary for the long term continued success of science into the future:

    Science and Theism: Concord, not Conflict* – Robert C. Koons
    IV. The Dependency of Science Upon Theism (Page 21)
    Excerpt: Far from undermining the credibility of theism, the remarkable success of science in modern times is a remarkable confirmation of the truth of theism. It was from the perspective of Judeo-Christian theism—and from the perspective alone—that it was predictable that science would have succeeded as it has. Without the faith in the rational intelligibility of the world and the divine vocation of human beings to master it, modern science would never have been possible, and, even today, the continued rationality of the enterprise of science depends on convictions that can be reasonably grounded only in theistic metaphysics.
    http://www.robkoons.net/media/.....ffd524.pdf

    further notes:

    The following video is also fairly direct in establishing the ‘spiritual’ link to man’s ability to learn new information, in that it shows that the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores for students showed a steady decline, for seventeen years from the top spot or near the top spot in the world, after the removal of prayer from the public classroom by the Supreme Court in 1963. Whereas the SAT scores for private Christian schools have consistently remained at the top, or near the top, spot in the world:

    The Real Reason American Education Has Slipped – David Barton – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4318930

    You can see that dramatic difference, of the SAT scores for private Christian schools compared to public schools, at this following site;

    Aliso Viejo Christian School – SAT 10 Comparison Report
    http://www.alisoviejochristian.....at_10.html

    Another very strong piece of ‘suggestive’ evidence, which persuasively points to a Theistic connection for learning man’s ability to learn new knowledge, is found in these following articles which point out the fact that ‘coincidental scientific discoveries’ are far more prevalent than what should ‘naturally’ be expected from the atheist’s materialistic perspective,:

    In the Air – Who says big ideas are rare? by Malcolm Gladwell
    Excerpt: This phenomenon of simultaneous discovery—what science historians call “multiples”—turns out to be extremely common. One of the first comprehensive lists of multiples was put together by William Ogburn and Dorothy Thomas, in 1922, and they found a hundred and forty-eight major scientific discoveries that fit the multiple pattern. Newton and Leibniz both discovered calculus. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace both discovered evolution. Three mathematicians “invented” decimal fractions. Oxygen was discovered by Joseph Priestley, in Wiltshire, in 1774, and by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, in Uppsala, a year earlier. Color photography was invented at the same time by Charles Cros and by Louis Ducos du Hauron, in France. Logarithms were invented by John Napier and Henry Briggs in Britain, and by Joost Bürgi in Switzerland. ,,, For Ogburn and Thomas, the sheer number of multiples could mean only one thing: scientific discoveries must, in some sense, be inevitable.
    http://www.newyorker.com/repor.....ntPage=all

    further notes:

    Jerry Coyne on the Scientific Method and Religion – Michael Egnor – June 2011
    Excerpt: The scientific method — the empirical systematic theory-based study of nature — has nothing to so with some religious inspirations — Animism, Paganism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Islam, and, well, atheism. The scientific method has everything to do with Christian (and Jewish) inspiration. Judeo-Christian culture is the only culture that has given rise to organized theoretical science. Many cultures (e.g. China) have produced excellent technology and engineering, but only Christian culture has given rise to a conceptual understanding of nature.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....47431.html

    Christianity Is a Science-Starter, Not a Science-Stopper By Nancy Pearcey
    http://www.pearceyreport.com/a.....post_4.php

    music:

    Sam Cooke – Wonderful World (1959)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8T4eatsZNrs

  17. Re: evolution acceptance — read the Miller et al., 2006 paper in Science for their specific survey methodology. But the various polls are well-known.

    Re: talking to e.g. Indian engineers. Yes, it would be interesting. It would also be interesting to talk to Indian biologists, who are more likely to have some actual knowledge about a biological topic than engineers.

    (Also, when there are a billion people in a country, they can have the same rate of engineer production as anyplace else and still be producing a heckuva lot of engineers.)

  18. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense in your brain, as long as it makes sense in your gut. Citation: Stephen Colbert.

  19. LOL — so do you buy Luskin’s argument that since we don’t know the cause of natural selection in some particular case, we are justified in assuming the action of NS is just implausible and that divine intervention should be invoked instead?

  20. Ouch!!!, poor Nick, couldn’t happen to better dogmatist! :)

  21. But natural selection has never been observed to do much of anything, and, if anything is just a minor player in the scheme of things (with respect to evolution).

    But anyway Casey is saying that you cannot say “natural selection” when you don’t have the evidence that it was natural selection.

  22. Well, Nick perhaps when you claim that the papers you cite prove that neo-Darwinism can generate novel genes/proteins, it would be well for you if they actually did prove it? I’m sure Casey will be all ears for your ‘cited’ defence. So go ahead dig through those mountains of papers and find the one that will put Casey in his place! Surely you are not going to take such a ‘intellectual beat-down’ without trying to defend yourself are you?

  23. Nick,

    Have you actually read Luskin’s response to you? It sounds like you haven’t, since you’re not referring to anything he said. What is anyone who did read it to think? Either you tune out criticism by not reading it, or you tune it out by pretending it didn’t say what it did. I can’t tell which.

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